Jordan Peterson on religion as knowledge of “shouldness.”
Jordan Peterson below explains how he, as a scientist, reconciles science and religion from a Darwinian point of view. Whether you accept Darwinism or not, his claims are important for how we define, pursue, and reflect on education.
He says that science is trying to explain what things are and religious claims, when they are true, are true things about how we should live:
“You should act…so that things are good for you, like they would be for someone you’re taking care of. But they have to be good for you in a way that’s also good for your family. And they have to be good for you and your family in a way that’s also good for society, and maybe even also good for the broader environment, if you can manage that. So it’s balanced at all those level. That has to be good for you and your family, and society, and the world right now and next week and next month and a year from now and ten years from now…Christ is a meta-hero and that sits at the bottom of western civilization. His archetypal mode of being is true speech. That’s the fundamental idea of western civilization. And it’s right.”
Peterson’s explanation of what religion is/does above is what education in the United States attempts to do. Therefore, it is religious. But alas dear reader, I’m never so brief.
Christ as the archetypal foundation of Western Civilization
I think Peterson is absolutely right about what he says about Jesus and his relationship to Western Civilization at its best. The argument to demonstrate it is labyrinthine, but I’ll summarize it:
- In western civilization, rule of law and the scientific method developed to the point of themselves becoming dogmas or the culture.
- Cultural dogmas arise from human behavior.
- Human behavior arises from foundational myths which survive by natural selection.
- The foundational myth of western civilization is Jesus Christ, crucified for truth-telling and resurrected to function as the Truth about humanity.
What is education?
Now, education is mirrors propaganda in that it propagates ideas, institutions, practices, temperaments, and goals. But it is distinct from propaganda in western civilization because everybody is called to speak the truth at any cost by virtue of the founding myth (though many are ignorant of this). But not only does the transitioning process contain the archetype of truth-telling, it also includes the archetype of question asking, thanks to our lionizing of the first social media troll, Socrates.
What this means is that the educational process, insofar as it seeks to inculcate a deep concern to speak the truth as the individual sees it so that what he speaks might be understood, criticized, reformulated, and actualized by the will is religious. Why? Very little is appealing about Aristotle’s understanding of speech as a faculty best suited to telling the truth. Why? Because people know that they can use words to get what they want all the time, truth be damned!
But the idea that truth-speaking, though it cause chaos, is an act of rebellion against chaos for its own sake and oppressive levels of order is a powerful motivating force. And not only so, but the idea that Christ himself did it so that you would do it too and so that you might have contact with ultimate reality when you engage in the same is even more motivating, because it happened in history!
And so, education that self-consciously encourages truth-speaking for the purpose of caring for the elements Peterson mentioned above (self, family, society, the world) is not only religious but distinctly Christian, even without explicit Christian content. The big question is this: when education has other aims, what sort of religion lay underneath?
Concluding Educational Necessities
Education is actually necessarily:
It is religious for the reasons above, it is philosophical because religion always entails metaphysics, it is social because religion is about being a part of society in a way that is a win/win for everybody, economic, because society is a resource allocation game, psychological because existence is traumatic and being a self is difficult, and personal insofar as there is no ‘one size fits all,’ which is implied by the previous layers or strata of education.